Fringe Box



Letter: Green Belt Study Is Flawed

Published on: 13 Nov, 2013
Updated on: 13 Nov, 2013

Hogs Back LetterFrom Karen Stevens

An organiser the Save Hogs Back campaign

Guildford Borough Council (GBC) has gone to great lengths to challenge the perception of what constitutes green belt by presenting a series of green belt images, including a car park, an industrial plant, and an urban wasteland, in the autumn 2013 About Guildford newsletter.

When the council then identifies parts of the green belt as potential development areas in the local plan consultation, and some of this is described as being “poor” in regard to its ability to fulfil the green belt purpose, you might be excused of thinking that it wouldn’t be too bad if this land was sacrificed to meet housing needs. After all, it’s sure to correspond to some of the ugly pictures we’ve all just been shown.

But hold on, where are the photos of this green belt land? I haven’t found any images within the extensive reports forming the evidence base. It seems that the council’s digital cameras have gone missing, but why?

However, it’s not just the lack of imagery that is a problem, of greater concern is the Countryside and green belt study. This is a key document within the consultation and the basis for selecting potential development areas, but it appears to be seriously flawed. It would seem that it is not some of the land that should be assessed as being ‘poor’, but the study itself.

Take, as an example, Blackwell Farm on the slopes of the Hog’s Back (partly an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, partly an Area of Great Landscape value and entirely within the green belt).  It seems to fulfil every green belt function: it prevents urban sprawl, protects the countryside from encroachment, preserves the setting and special character of Guildford, and prevents the conurbations of Onslow Village, Park Barn and Wood Street village merging into one.  Surely this is an area that it would be in everyone’s interest to protect?

GBC’s green belt study takes a different view. It splits the area into two parcels and gives both areas a zero score for ‘protecting the countryside against encroachment’. This doesn’t make sense as the land itself is open countryside and the neighbouring land is open countryside (all the way to Aldershot). The justification put forward in the study is “where land is clear of development, with the exception of occasional buildings and farms, the green belt contributes little to restricting encroachment into the countryside (as development is already absent)”.

It seems strange that an area of open countryside is unable, in any circumstance, to stop encroachment on open countryside by virtue of the fact that it is undeveloped and sparsely populated.

It also seems strange that the two land parcels should score a zero for ‘preserving the setting and special character of historic towns’. Both form an intrinsic part of the Hog’s Back and what contributes more to the character of Guildford than this iconic chalk ridge? It has a history stretching back for centuries and provides a spectacular rural backdrop to the town (one that can even still be seen from the High Street).

Individually, the two land parcels at Blackwell Farm do not prevent parts of Guildford merging, and so arguably the zero score for meeting this criteria could be allowed, but when put together (as they have been subsequently in the Issues and Options document), they certainly do.

The arbitrary way this study has carved up land parcels, the nonsensical scoring and the simplistic methodology (it only scores 1 or 0 against each of the purposes of the green belt and doesn’t try to measure the extent to which each land parcels fulfils these purposes), makes it far from robust.

I don’t believe it would be right for the council to remove areas from green belt that have been wrongly assessed; and I don’t believe it is right that people should be responding to the consultation based on what appears to be flawed evidence.

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Responses to Letter: Green Belt Study Is Flawed

  1. Mark Payne Reply

    November 14, 2013 at 11:18 am

    Clearly the council are softening us up to accepting building on green belt.

    Sure there is a limited need in Guildford for housing but the council are trying to dump the majority of Surrey’s housing need in our small town.

    Brownfield sites must be developed first.

    Development absolutely must not be about building large housing estates on green belt to line the pockets of landowners and developers.

  2. Jules Cranwell Reply

    November 14, 2013 at 2:33 pm

    I also read this rubbish with equal incredulity. It was obviously crafted to mislead. If I recall, only one of the images, which looked like what green belt really looks like, was identified as in the green belt. Most disingenuous.

    Let’s let them know what we think on the 29th. March on Millmead at 14:00.

  3. Tony Thompson Reply

    November 15, 2013 at 10:10 am

    It is equally outrageous of GBC arbitrarily to divide West Horsley which has always been one village into two villages, one called West Horsley North and one called West Horsley South, in order to justify their decision that West Horsley meets their criteria for insetting within the green belt i.e. they propose to move the green belt boundary so as to exclude West Horsley and leave it entirely vulnerable to the presumption in favour of development.

  4. Michael Bruton Reply

    November 15, 2013 at 10:57 am

    When Labour’s John Prescott tried to force a Woking/Guildford mega town on us Guildford Borough Council took him to a judicial review and won.

    Now, Guildford’s Conservative council appears to be conniving with central government, the one blaming the other, to wreck the green belt.

    But on 1/7/13, Eric Pickles’ department published a written answer stating that “The Secretary of State…considers that the single issue of unmet demand, whether for traveller sites or for conventional housing is unlikely to outweigh harm to the green belt and other harm to constitute the very special circumstances justifying inappropriate development in the green belt”.

    This was reiterated by Nick Boles MP, Planning Minister, in a letter to Anne Milton MP (7/10/13) concerning green belt development at Wonersh.

    At a packed meeting in East Horsley Village Hall (7/11/13), our MP Paul Beresford, reported that he had spoken to Nick Boles who had told him that GBC was under no pressure to tamper with the green belt and that any such tampering would be because GBC Councillors had decided to do so.

    So is the green belt safe in the Conservative Guildford Borough Council’s (GBC) hands? No way.

    The new planning laws, The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) brought in by Cameron and co. in 2012, have led to a developer free for all. GBC now appears to be working with central government to build anything anywhere. This is also happening across Surrey’s other boroughs and elsewhere in the Home Counties.

    So “Hands off the Green Belt” GBC. And please turn up from across the Borough on 29 November at 1400 at GBC in Millmead to show councillors what we voters think about their plans.

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